Not too long ago, conventional wisdom seemed to dictate that gay marriage in America was inevitable. Conservatives, surprisingly, would tell me this more often than anyone. But something has changed. Carrie Prejean has had an effect on us.
That's the argument made by my friend, Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, in the latest issue of National Review.
After a series of judicial usurpations, legislative victories, and public-relations onslaughts, the gay-marriage movement took a blow this past November, when Proposition 8 was passed in California. Voters affirmed a ballot measure that defined marriage as "between a man and a woman."
The sea change just may have come when a pretty, empathetic face came onto the national scene. A young beauty contestant was asked about her position on gay marriage, and she answered honestly (and as it turns out, bravely): "I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman." She added: "No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."
The fact is that however you spin it, gay unions are not marriage. And I write this totally aware that heterosexual culture has not done what it should to protect marriage. But our falling short — individually and culturally — is no reason to call the whole thing off and erase a cornerstone of civilized society.
Gallagher writes: "Same-sex unions are really not just like opposite-sex unions when marriage is in question. Celebrating all forms of adult romantic love equally is not a very good justification for redefining a fundamental institution whose public purposes reach far beyond the affirmation of romance."
The New York Times, just a day or so after Gallagher's piece ran, confirmed that something has changed. In an article titled "Backers of Gay Marriage Rethink California Push," the paper reported on how, discouraged by the political and cultural climate, many gay-marriage advocates are scaling back efforts to overturn Proposition 8. This, despite the supposed inevitability of which some of my friends on the right were all but convinced, not long ago.
And despite the shrill assertions of the Prop-8 protesters, it's not impossible to find members of the non-heterosexual community with an ambivalent view of marriage.
After the recent release of a documentary about his life and career, fashion designer Valentino Garavani was asked if gay marriage should be legal. He answered: "For myself, all these years, I never thought about it in terms of changing the laws. [His business partner and longtime companion Giancarlo] Giammetti and I found our own way — nothing conventional — and it was always friendship first, always the most important thing: the friendship. I am neither for it legally, or against it, so I have no personal agenda here."
Not particularly political, this answer can't be taken as outright opposition to gay marriage. But to these ears, there seems to be an acknowledgement of an inescapable truth: There is something transparently different between two men who decide to spend their lives together and a marriage.
And unlike the most strident advocates of gay marriage, who spent the time during and after the Proposition 8 campaign intimidating and punishing those who supported the measure, most of us who oppose gay marriage are not looking to exclude anyone from any kind of happiness.
Carrie Prejean is now a face of that kind of tolerance. The contrast of her measured, mildly offered opinion to the angry, ugly Internet response from beauty-contestant judge Perez Hilton, who asked Prejean the fateful question, was striking. As Maggie Gallagher puts it, Hilton's Web video "reminded too many people of what they saw after Prop 8."
According to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, support for gay marriage has dropped nine percentage points from a 42 percent historic high. According to Gallup, only 13 percent of Americans believe that gay marriage would make us better off, while 48 percent believe it would be change for the worse.
While Republicans were tripping over themselves to pose with the party's Log Cabin branch and join the march of inevitability, a beauty queen made it OK to confidently acknowledge reality, in a loving and beautiful and even tolerant way.
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.